Danger! This Mission to Mars Could Bore You to Death!

The New York Times:

Right now, six people are living in a nearly windowless, white geodesic dome on the slopes of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano. They sleep in tiny rooms, use no more than eight minutes of shower time a week and subsist on a diet of freeze-dried, canned or preserved food. When they go outside, they exit through a mock air lock, clad head to toe in simulated spacesuits. The dome’s occupants are playing a serious version of the game of pretend — what if we lived on Mars?

Research at the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) project, funded in part by NASA, is a continuation of a long history of attempts to understand what will happen to people who travel through outer space for long periods of time. It’s more than a technical problem. Besides multistage rockets to propel a spacecraft out of Earth’s atmosphere, years of planning and precise calculations and massive amounts of fuel, traveling the tens of millions of miles to Mars will take a tremendous amount of time. With current technology, the journey takes more than eight months each way.

Which means that astronauts will get bored. In fact, a number of scientists say that — of all things — boredom is one of the biggest threats to a manned Mars mission, despite the thrill inherent in visiting another planet.

The cognitive and social psychologist Peter Suedfeld says that people will sometimes do reckless, stupid things when they suffer from chronic boredom. In Antarctica, where winter can cut scientists and crew off from the rest of the world for as long as nine months, the isolation can lead to strange behavior.

Read the whole story at: The New York Times

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